Early Pheromone Experience Modifies a Synaptic Activity to Influence Adult Pheromone Responses of C. elegans

Curr Biol. 2017 Oct 23;27(20):3168-3177.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.08.068. Epub 2017 Oct 5.


Experiences during early development can influence neuronal functions and modulate adult behaviors [1, 2]. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying the long-term behavioral effects of these early experiences are not fully understood. The C. elegans ascr#3 (asc-ΔC9; C9) pheromone triggers avoidance behavior in adult hermaphrodites [3-7]. Here, we show that hermaphrodites that are briefly exposed to ascr#3 immediately after birth exhibit increased ascr#3-specific avoidance as adults, indicating that ascr#3-experienced animals form a long-lasting memory or imprint of this early ascr#3 exposure [8]. ascr#3 imprinting is mediated by increased synaptic activity between the ascr#3-sensing ADL neurons and their post-synaptic SMB motor neuron partners via increased expression of the odr-2 glycosylated phosphatidylinositol (GPI)-linked signaling gene in the SMB neurons. Our study suggests that the memory for early ascr#3 experience is imprinted via alteration of activity of a single synaptic connection, which in turn shapes experience-dependent plasticity in adult ascr#3 responses.

Keywords: GPI-anchored protein; neuronal activity; pheromone; sensory imprinting; synapse.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Avoidance Learning
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Hermaphroditic Organisms / physiology
  • Memory*
  • Pheromones / physiology*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Pheromones